Charles Richard is the Director of UL's Cinematic Arts Workshop, and a Research Fellow of the University's Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism. His work includes over a dozen nationally distributed documentary films and he has won numerous awards including "Best Historical Documentary" at the New York Independent Film & Video Festival, the prestigious "duPont-Columbia Award," television's Pulitzer Prize, and most recently, the Platinum Best of the Show at the international Aurora Awards

Charles Richard, University of Louisiana, Cinematic Arts WorkshopTell us about yourself.

I was born in New Orleans, but I call Acadiana home. It's where my whole family is from, and we spent weekends and vacations in the Opelousas area where my family came from.

I did my undergrad at Georgia State, and then I did my grad work at LSU. I got my MFA in screenwriting-- creative writing-- there.

The first chance I got to move back to Acadiana and take a job at UL, I grabbed it.  I came to UL about four and a half years ago. I was recruited to help explore the idea of a film program here. There were efforts already underway when I got here, so I ended up spear-heading those efforts.

To make a long story very short, we came to the conclusion that UL already had everything on the books, not just for a film program, but for a comprehensive approach to moving images.  The reason that's an important distinction is that film and entertainment are industries within a larger category of creative expression, the larger category we refer as to the moving image arts.

There are several reasons that this was important to us. When we started this, UNO had a very good film and drama department within their communications program over there. They have a conventional film school, and we saw no reason to reinvent something that was already working very well at UNO.  In addition, we didn't want to design a program that was specific to one industry alone, such as the entertainment industry.  We wanted to design a program that took in the entire creative practice, which is the creation, use, and study of moving images as a means of communicating.   We wanted to make sure that students who came out of the program we were proposing were prepared to use moving images creatively in industries as far-ranging as military, education, tourism, public history, advertising, music videos, graphic novels & animation, and computer games & simulations. 

We found that this had a lot of practical advantages, as well as theoretical advantages.  We're moving into a period historically where literacy is being redefined. Literacy now includes the ability to communicate with images, and the creation of images is becoming democratized.  Reading and writing in images is now more accessible to ordinary people than ever.  And so the program that we proposed was intended to produce well-rounded generalist graduates, who were fully literate in this emerging form of communication.

The second really important goal of the program was to create opportunities for disseminating knowledge-- which is a core mission of the university-- through new means and media.

The days of publishing research in conventional conference papers, academic journals and the like, are rapidly passing away.  And these new moving image technologies are creating opportunities for bringing to broad audiences what was formerly reserved for scholarship.

I Always Do My Collars First, Cinematic Arts Workshop, University of LouisianaSort of like the Mexican Muralists?*

Actually, yes.

The first project out of the Cinematic Arts Workshop-- which proved to be an award-winning film-- was 'I Always Do My Collars First.' It originated as a paper by Connie Castille for a folklore conference.  After 'Collars,' we quickly recognized that digital media could bring to the broad public a whole wealth of humanities and sciences scholarship that otherwise would be relegated to traditional academic publication.

Think about the Beausoleil Solar Home project. The nine-minute video that we produced for Team Beausoleil made accessible the creative genius of the architects and engineers who are working on the home.  We won a Bronze Telly for that one.

So these are just a couple of examples of teaching young people how to communicate effectively with moving images, that can be useful in fields other than making Hollywood movies.

The status of our program... right now we are a minor within the College of Liberal Arts, and we're supported by a research center, the Cinematic Arts Workshop.  We have a proposal to make it a major degree program pending before the Board of Regents.

What makes for a great film?

Oh, wow.  This might sound elusive, but to me a great film is one that makes its viewer more human.  It engages those things about us that are uniquely human: our ability to empathize, laugh, imagine, hope and believe.

Cinematics Arts Workshop logo, University of LouisianaThere is a large push for film production here.

Lafayette had a little slower start in the growth of the film industry in Louisiana than say, Shreveport or New Orleans, but what Lafayette is doing is something very smart, I think.  We're focusing in on independent film, which is a good fit for a city as independent-minded and entrepreneurial as we are.

I think that in the mayor's Lafayette Entertainment Initiative (LEI) there is tremendous promise for independent filmmaking in Lafayette, and Acadiana in general.

Lafayette is about to have the most powerful community intranet in the world. Talk about that.

The Fiber to the Home initiative makes it possible for Lafayette to become one of the most interesting test markets for digital media in the world.  With the kind of bandwidth that families, businesses, government and schools will have, it will be possible for all sorts of new products, particularly digital media products, to be tested and prototyped here in Lafayette.

Think of how many movies are focus-grouped in theatres and test-marketed in cities in the conventional way.  With Fiber to the Premises, a film can be test marketed in the entire city, and the producers can receive instant feedback.  For that matter, think about how much effort goes into beta-testing computer games.  Wouldn't it be something to have an entire city's young people beta-test a new program from their homes? 

These are just two digital media products that will suddenly become widely accessible to the people of Lafayette, and potentially an important part of our economy.

*After the Mexican Revolution, the new government needed a medium to convey the ideals and goals of the Revolution to a largely illiterate population.  They employed a group of artists who revived fresco painting, a demanding process of quickly applying pigments to fresh ('fresco') wet plaster.  These Mexican Muralists were very influential among the American Regionalist artists during the Great Depression, including Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry.